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Taibbi writes: "The idea that we don't legitimize human-rights abusers is a laugh-out-loud joke everywhere outside America. You could fill a book chapter with the history of the friendly relations between American presidents and just the foreign dictators who are credibly reported to have eaten other human beings."

The United States helped create the pre-condition for Trump by continually spreading the idea that it's OK to ally ourselves with leaders who abuse their subjects. (photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP/REX Shutterstock)
The United States helped create the pre-condition for Trump by continually spreading the idea that it's OK to ally ourselves with leaders who abuse their subjects. (photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP/REX Shutterstock)

It's Too Late to Worry About 'Normalizing' Trump. Decades of Policy Did That for Him

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

13 March 18

The current president is just too stupid to be embarrassed about things his predecessors all did, too

ax Boot, the noted Washington Post columnist, and "Jeane Kilpatrick senior fellow for National Security Studies" at the Council for Foreign Relations, thinks Donald Trump is betraying American values by meeting with Kim Jong-Un.

Such a meeting, Boot says, would mean "giving the worst human-rights abuser on the planet what he most wants: international legitimacy."

Let's unpack that one for a minute. We're worried now about giving human rights abusers legitimacy?

The idea that we don't legitimize human-rights abusers is a laugh-out-loud joke everywhere outside America. You could fill a book chapter with the history of the friendly relations between American presidents and just the foreign dictators who are credibly reported to have eaten other human beings.

Here's a cheery letter from Gerald Ford inviting Central African Republic dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa (the remains of 30 people were found in his crocodile pond upon ouster) to Washington.

We helped install Idi Amin, too. He later denied rumors of cannibalism, saying human flesh was "too salty," but he had other equally upsetting hobbies. We've supported a couple of generations of Nguemas in Equatorial Guinea, both of whom – uncle Macias and nephew Teodoro Obiang – reportedly ate their political enemies.

This is in addition to the countless Batistas and Suhartos and Diems and Marcoses and Pinochets who were just murdering thieving monsters we legitimized not by sitting down with them at the negotiating table, but by making them allies we showered with things like arms and money.

The problem with Trump is that he's too stupid to be embarrassed by such relationships. He constantly makes all of Washington look bad by jumping too enthusiastically in bed with the blood-soaked juntas and anti-democratic governments we more quietly embraced in the past.

Over the weekend, for instance, Trump horrified progressives when he called for the death penalty for drug dealers, an idea he said he got from Chinese President Xi Jinping. "I don't know if this country's ready for it," Trump moaned.

This is monstrous, of course, and God help us if we actually try to enact this policy.

But the fact that we're so tight with repressive China to begin with is on Trump's predecessors, who should have taken a harder line on human rights issues a long time ago.

For decades, American officials in both parties have overlooked China's horrific record on human rights. Both continually lobbied for China to keep receiving Most Favored Nation status and other trade benefits, largely because corporate donors wanted it.

The real measuring stick we use when it comes to determining whether a foreign regime is irredeemably monstrous or an important ally is whether the leaders we're talking about are our bastards, or their own bastards – puppets, or free-lancers.

Dictators who take the throne with our backing get weapons and cash. The ones who do it without our backing usually find themselves getting a nice healthy dose of regime change sooner or later.

Sometimes the offender starts out as an American lapdog only to leave the kennel and instantly become a Dangerous International Human Rights Offender.

Manuel Noriega was on the CIA payroll until 1988, but later became disobedient and found himself holed up in a nunnery listening to invading American troops blaring "I Fought the Law" (the Clash version, in a nice detail) as they waited for him to surrender.

Saddam Hussein was another friend-turned-target, as was Diem and a few others. The line between friend and pariah in our foreign policy is incredibly slim. It really has nothing to do with anything beyond the political utility, to America, of the regime in question.

This is why the debate over Trump meeting with Kim Jong-Un is so absurd. The crime here isn't meeting with a dictator – we snuggle up to worse creeps all the time – the crime is meeting with an out of pocket dictator.

Rachel Maddow last week struggled to articulate why she was so opposed to negotiations with North Korea. Her basic take seemed to be "Nobody has ever met with the dictator of North Korea, therefore nobody should ever meet with the dictator of North Korea."

A lot of self-described progressives seem to be agreeing with her. This is interesting, since the same idea was incredibly popular among the same audience not long ago.

On July 23rd, 2007, at the Citadel in South Carolina, Democratic presidential candidates held the first presidential debate of the 2008 election cycle. In it, an audience member asked if candidates would be willing to meet with leaders of countries like Syria, Iran, and North Korea.

"I would," Obama said. "And the reason is this: the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration, is ridiculous."

As a colleague pointed out to me over the weekend, this was one of the moments that first endeared progressives to Barack Obama, precisely because it defied bipartisan Washington consensus. True to form, after that debate, both Hillary Clinton and George Bush ("Some seem to think we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals") ripped Obama's naiveté.

The idea that the United States does not negotiate in public until the enemy has already surrendered in private has long been a bedrock principle in D.C.

It's one of the reasons why people in other countries hate us so much. It's also why our "peace proposals" so often read like ultimatums.

A classic example was the Rambouillet deal presented to Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic agreed to the key principle of an independent Kosovo, but didn't want the deal secured by NATO troops, as outlined. He preferred the occupying troops fly under a U.N. or an OSCE flag. We told him to take the deal or be bombed.

He wouldn't budge, we bombed him, and our news media consistently misreported this war-starting sequence of events. The New York Times went so far as to say Milosevic "absolutely refused to entertain an outside force in Kosovo."

The current consensus on North Korea is basically the same. It's said repeatedly we shouldn't countenance a meet with the mad dictator until the mad dictator agrees in advance to surrender. Doing anything else makes us look weak, and gives a PR win to a murderous autocrat. And we wouldn't want that!

The flamboyant horribleness of Trump is allowing warmongering, democracy-hating hacks on both sides of the aisle to rewrite history. They're penning a new creation story that dates America's embrace of murderous dictators to Trump's election.

"Another morning in America," sighed Paul Krugman, after Trump invited Egypt's ruthless Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Washington last year, and called him a "fantastic guy." Politico chimed in: "Critics worry the president has a love for tyrants and little interest in promoting human rights and democracy."

What these people left out of their outrage is that we'd been supplying Sisi with jets and missiles since the Obama years. As The Intercept pointed out, exactly the same thing happened when Trump and Tillerson cozied up to the repressive Bahrain regime (who began receiving arms from us in 2015).

One of the constant themes we hear on social media and from pundits is that the press has to go the extra mile to avoid "normalizing" Donald Trump. The problem is that when it comes to embracing autocratic regimes, Trump actually is normal. We should be ashamed not just of him, but of the decades of votes we cast for politicians who did the same things.

We helped create the pre-condition for Trump by continually spreading the idea that it's OK to ally ourselves with leaders who abuse their subjects – who push dissenters out of airplanes, electrocute their genitals, bomb women and children, and so on – so long as our economic interests are protected.

I would love to be able to point a finger at Donald Trump and say, "The United States does not sit down with murderous dictators!"

But we can't say that, can we? Not with a straight face, anyway. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

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Founder, Reader Supported News

+15 # kyzipster 2018-03-13 11:56
Trump does have a way of cutting through the bull chit and showing us exactly who we are and that mirror reflects a horrific image. It goes beyond the issues in this article.

Limbaugh mocked a disabled person years ago and renewed his contract at $300 million (maybe it was 400, can't remember.) Reagan called him the #1 voice of conservatism in the US. Everything about Trump reflects the underbelly of this culture. He was smart enough to give it a voice and we're outraged.
+11 # janie1893 2018-03-13 13:46
Certainly not as long as the US continues to use drones in the mid east!
+31 # Jim at Dr.Democracy on Facebook 2018-03-13 14:04
Right on, Matt!

Many of our people are easily herded to the corporate-party -line because it's delivered via the corporate megaphones of an imaginarily "free press" on TV, in newspapers, and online. People don't realize that most of our media assets are owned by or work closely with the same corporations that profit from the wars and the natural resources we steal from other countries. And if other countries' leaders are not complicit with our corporate politics, they are in grave danger.

Instead of Gideon's Bible, every hotel room in America should have a copy of the book by the very highly decorated Marine Corps General, Smedley Butler: War is a Racket (full text available for free online via a number of sites; just Google.
+21 # 2018-03-13 14:22
It was nearly 45 years ago that I learned a phrase in graduate school providing meaning to American foreign policy. It was, "America has no friends, only allies." Matt Taibbi is simply documenting that truth.
+2 # tedrey 2018-03-14 11:43
I only recognize minions and co-conspirators .
+18 # HenryS1 2018-03-13 14:49
A great article. This time, Taibbi's drama and hyperbolic emphasis just simply tells the truth as it is, without appealing to juvenile taunts or condescension.

I'm with Obama and Pogo. "We have met the enemy and he is us." As obnoxious as Trump is, America chose him, and he does just continue the crimes of past U.S. foreign policy with less concern about admitting it than his predecessors. He is just more of the same, and more brazen, but perhaps an inevitable next step toward the moral gutter for this country.

Don't get me wrong, I love this country and its people, don't want to leave, and have no better place to go. But wrong is wrong, even if that is hardest to admit when one has a degree of passive complicity.
+1 # librarian1984 2018-03-13 21:33
What's SadButFunny is that while you call people who want actual evidence trolls, the truly troll-y trolls have just labelled YOU a troll because you said Trump was 1) elected and 2) not the devil-and-Hitle r rolled into one.

I see we're going to have to issue some orthodoxy primers.
+3 # ThorunnPS 2018-03-16 05:10
The fact is that most of us are indeed passively compliant, not least those of us who never vote. The situation in the US reminds me quite a lot of the one in Germany in the thirties. If people are too lazy or ignorant to stand up for what is right, the powers that be will have little compunction in doing whatever seems politic at the moment.
+11 # jazzman633 2018-03-13 14:59
Death for drug dealers as decreed by a newly-crowned President for Life - these are (half?)- serious ideas from an American President?? This is Trump being Trump, i.e., if he had the power to do these things, he would do them.

How about death for adulterers who consort with prostitutes?
+19 # tedrey 2018-03-13 15:28
Of course, many of our own leaders don't just sit down with human-rights abusers. All too often they *are* them.
+25 # jwb110 2018-03-13 15:30
The US has supported Fascism in many forms around the world. Why are we now surprised that we find it happening here? WHy is it a surprise that we have a President seeking the Office of President for life. We have backed tyrants all over the world but never thought we would have one in office here!?? The political naivete of the American public is staggering.
+22 # Texas Aggie 2018-03-13 16:15
If you want to make peace, you don't talk with your friends. You talk with your enemies - Moshe Dayan

Now the question is whether or not the drumpf administration and all the other people supporting him really want peace or not. And peace is not the absence of war. Peace is a positive action that gives everyone a sense of security.
+10 # dascher 2018-03-13 17:39
As usual, Taibbi cuts through the crap and points out that Trump's boorishness is exposing behaviors that US administrations going back to Eisenhower at least, have engaged in but with more delicacy and finesse.

However, that the US has been trying to find a way to win the Korean War since 1952 and has had a lot of nukes in and around South Korea - defensive nukes, of course - aimed at North Korea and that the US and South Korea (the descendants of a puppet regime established by the US under Japanese collaborator and dictator Chung He Park have been practicing invasions of the North for decades - actions that would be "outrageous" if North Korea and, say China were to carry them out every year against South Korea.

Of course, Taibbi was thinking more broadly than just about Korea. On the other hand, the chances of Trump ever meeting with Kim Jung Il especially with Pompeo making it clear that the US will 'make no concessions to North Korea', are similar to the chances that Jeff Sessions will still be Attorney General in 6 months.
-4 # Robbee 2018-03-13 17:59
are you certain, matt, that we have to expect future presidents to live repuke fantasies?
+27 # chrisconno 2018-03-13 18:04
It is also hard to see the difference between us and all the countries we are bombing while calling the victims of our bombing terrorists. It sure seems to me that we are the biggest state sponsored terrorists on the planet and we are creating enemies where ever we decide to occupy. Yes, cozying up to dictators should be condemned but it is just one of our many hypocritical and cruel foreign policies.
+3 # Citizen Mike 2018-03-13 21:47
Well, now, for once I completely approve of what Pierce has written in both content and style. Though he cannot resist being gonzo snarky, what with his comments on our alliance with out-and-out cannibals. But in this case I suspect he is not exaggerating but is factually accurate. Lemme add my two cents, which is that Trump, no matter how much I may hate him, is superbly qualified to make a deal with Kim. Because the two of them agree that democracy is an obstruction to the consolidation of power and not a virtue to be encouraged. And if we look at the example of China we can see that it is possible to construct a prosperous nation with a lively economy without any democracy at all. So here is the model for North Korea to follow as an economic ally of the US. If they give up nukes, we can offer a nonaggression pact and a treaty to end the war. This opens North Korea to become a cheap-labor center for American factories, which will modernize the nation and lift it out of starving poverty, while preserving its family dictatorship.
0 # Citizen Mike 2018-03-13 21:49
OOPS, my error, this is not Pierce, it is the vastly superior Taibbi!
-1 # tedrey 2018-03-14 11:49
NOW I can upvote you!
+7 # librarian1984 2018-03-14 08:49
This morning CSPAN hosted two members of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the group that runs Hamilton 68. To his credit the moderator brought up (and quoted) a bit of Taibbi's article.

Laura Rosenberger, who worked at State for W, the NSC for Obama and was HRC's foreign policy advisor during her campaign, insisted Hamilton 68 is not about censorship but about 'more' free speech not less. (wink wink)

The other guest, Jamie Fly, said that Taibbi gets a lot of facts wrong, that H68 is not trying to take away any American's rights; instead they are just trying to 'raise awareness'. (wink wink)

Fly denied that H68 is a group of 'warmongers' trying to push a specific foreign policy. He warned about RT (a favorite target of H68) and advised Taibbi and other journalists who 'parrot actual Kremlin talking points' to be 'very careful'.

It was obvious Taibbi had struck a nerve.

One interesting point that emerged: H68 is monitoring 600 Twitter accounts (even though 80% of Americans aren't on Twitter) because the data is accessible and available for research purposes. Fly said H68 is working with a consortium of other researchers to figure out how to look at other social media platforms. So I guess the warmongers' 'sunlight' and 'more free speech' will expand.

Both denied the group is trying to censor dissent.

Of the eight callers, two were neutral about ASD, two were pro, and four seemed familiar with the group -- and critical.
+1 # yolo 2018-03-14 09:58
Anyone want to bet Trump never meets with Kim Jong-Un. Trump doesn't have the balls to go against the establishment as defined by the media and think tanks. Trump will find an excuse, or an event will happen, which will result in Trump reneging on his statement. If by chance Trump does meet with Jung-Un my guess is Trump won't last much longer in office because those same establishment types will find something to have Trump removed from office. Look what happened to JFK when he tried to smooth out relations with Castro. Although today bullets aren't used, leaders are character assassinated through the media which manufactures public consent against the individual who defies the establishment.
+5 # Benign Observer 2018-03-14 11:04
Appreciate that rsn has posted two of Taibbi's most recent articles, but they missed this one from last week, Russiagate and the New Blacklist:

Taibbi notes that establishment neocon/neoliber al groups like Hamilton 68 and PropOrNot use the Russia conspiracy narrative to justify censoring dissent -- including sites like rsn and the Intercept.

This is a monumentally important aspect to this story that rsn and its community should consider when they indiscriminatel y buy what the intel community is selling.
+3 # tedrey 2018-03-14 16:42
If the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) can separate out the Russian attempts to manipulate our elections, I wish they would also separate out the far more numerous and perhaps more malign anonymous attempts by the Republican and Democratic parties to do the same thing. Because the most dangerous threats to our tottering American institutions (and that includes the intelligence agencies) are themselves American. But of course ASD don't want to do that.
+10 # krazykwiltkatt 2018-03-14 18:33
On old maps, there was often sections of unknown areas saying things like 'Land of Prester John' or 'Here Be Dragons'. We cannot ignore countries we disagree with and pretend they don't exist. OTOH, we should negotiate with a clear view f what or values are. Unfortunately, with 45's embrace of Duterte's 'kill the drug dealers' our values have sunk to a very low level in deed, but then we have been Dumpster Diving for a long time, from Reagan's war on unions, Iran-Contra poster children for CIA's shenanigans dating from the overthrow of governments dating back to Somoza regime in 1920's Nicaragua. We have steadfastly turned our faces away from the racism, the misogyny, the Theocratic tendencies enshrined in the prayer breakfasts, the Christian interference in health legislation, particularly women's health, and the vast economic inequality which has been a hallmark of this society, only briefly interrupted by FDR's social policies. Truth is not always beautiful but the Ugliness that is coming, built on the lies we tell ourselves (the CDC can't report total gun deaths so , what, they don't exist?)will be much worse. So bravo to Taibbi, who is trying to make a dent in the USA's willful ignorance.

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